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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; Trump Administration Expels Russian Intelligence Officials. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:07]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In our world lead, a strong statement from the United States against Russia.

The White House announcing 60 Russian diplomats will be kicked out of the country because of Russia's alleged poisoning of a former spy in England. This is the most aggressive action the Trump administration has taken against the Putin regime.

The U.S. is joining a growing list of Western countries expelling these Russian diplomats. And now Russia is responding, vowing to strike back.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixty Russian diplomats, according to the Trump administration, aggressive spies, have one week to pack their bags and get out.

A dozen Russians will be kicked out of New York at the U.N.; 58 others at embassies and consulates around the U.S. The Russian Consulate in Seattle will be shuttered, administration officials saying it's too close to a U.S. submarine base.

A sharp U.S. response to the nerve agent attack poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter, and others in the U.K.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think this is a good move by the president and the administration and I'm glad to see it.

It sends two strong messages to Putin. One is, we're going to hold you accountable for your crimes, and number two that you're not going to be able to continue to divide and sow chaos and discord in the West.

KOSINSKI: This move cuts the number of Russian diplomats in the U.S. by 13 percent, officials saying this will make the U.S. safer from Russian espionage.

More than a dozen U.S. allies also expelling diplomats, and Russia already warning it will do the same right back.

ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The United States did a very bad step. I'm sure that the time will come. They will understand what kind of the grave mistake they did.

KOSINSKI: It's a much harder line than previously seen from this administration, especially from President Trump, who only days ago defied his national security team's warning in all capital letters to not congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election victory.

On a phone call with Putin, Trump didn't even bring up the poisoning attacks or election meddling, which lawmakers both Democrats and Republicans are worried that this administration is not tackling. Now Trump will have a new national security adviser in John Bolton, a new secretary of state in Mike Pompeo, both of whom have called for strong action against Russia.

Though, in 2016, Bolton criticized President Obama on FOX News for taking the same action and merely expelling diplomats.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: That is utterly useless. So, if you make them feel pain and others feel pain, then the possibility of deterring future conduct like this increases. That's what we need to do.

KOSINSKI: Today, former CIA operative Bob Baer agrees.

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You go after Putin's money. You go after the oligarchs. You hit them in their pocketbooks. Bolton is absolutely right. I don't usually agree with him, but he's right on this, and you really have to make them feel pain. And expelling 60 diplomats does not go far enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: Russia sensing thing that something like this could be coming down the pike for days has been trolling the U.S. on Twitter, issuing warnings.

Today, they tweeted a poll asking people what U.S. Consulate in Russia should be shut down. But we also this morning heard Trump administration officials warn Russia, saying that if Russia does retaliate, the U.S. could well take further action -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, Michelle thank you very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Cardin, you have been very critical of the Trump the administration in its treatment of Russia. You were very critical last week when we spoke over the fact that President Trump did not bring up this nerve agent attack that took place in England.

But this action today, kicking out 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S., is three times the amount that Britain is expelling. Is this the type of strong action you would like to see?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, John first, it is good to be with you.

And, yes, this was an appropriate response. We're talking about a response for with Mr. Putin did in U.K. And it showed the unity of the West in responding to let Mr. Putin know that that type of conduct will go -- won't go unchallenged.

So it was the right response. I agree with it. But the president of the United States has yet to respond to Russia's attacks here in the United States or ask our allies in the West to join us in imposing much more stringent sanctions against Russia for that conduct.

But it was right to join Europe in regards to expelling these diplomats.

BERMAN: I will say the Treasury Department did issue sanctions on many of the entities that were mentioned in the indictments for Robert Mueller. So they have taken some action for those engaged in Russian meddling.

[16:35:00]

What more do you want to see from the Trump administration? What you want to see as the next action?

CARDIN: Congress passed by an overwhelming vote mandatory sanctions against Russia in regards to their attacks against us. It deals with the defense industry, deals with their intelligence agencies.

Those sanctions have not yet been imposed at all. So there's still a whole range of activities that could be sanctioned based upon their cyber-attacks against us. The interference in our elections law this.

So, yes, we want to see stronger steps in regards to what -- I would like to hear the president speak out against Russia, what they did in the United States.

BERMAN: Again, he has not commented publicly himself, even though we have heard from the State Department, the U.N. investor and the White House.

We heard John Bolton talk about what needs to happen to make Russia change their behavior. This was a year ago. He said you need to make whatever Putin feel pain.

How do you make Vladimir Putin feel pain?

CARDIN: Well, we know we don't do. You don't ignore with these attacks.

The president of the United States need to speak out strongly against what Russia has done. And there's several ways of -- yes, of putting sanctions on the use of our banking system or the ability to get visas to travel to the United States against the oligarchs are a prime way to really cause pain to Mr. Putin.

His regime depends upon corruption. And to the extent that you could deal with their corrupt enterprises, so that it's not easy to hide money or to have assets in the West or visit the West, all that would hurt Mr. Putin's ability to maintain his corrupt version.

BERMAN: We heard from the Russian ambassador to the United States responding to this, saying, in part: "The U.S. will understand what kind of grave mistake they did and I hope that maybe in the future our relations will be restored."

Where does the United States need to continue to work with Russia despite this tension?

CARDIN: Well, look, we would like to have a positive relations with Russia. We're not the ones causing a problem.

It's Russia that interfered in our free election system. It's Russia that poisoned a person in the U.K. It's Russia that financed a coup in Montenegro. It's Mr. Putin who's been financing corruption basically globally.

What we want to see is Russia adhere to international norms. We do need to work with Russia in fighting extremists and terrorists around the world. Russia has a vote in the United Nations Security Council and the right of veto. We do need to work with Russia. To resolve North Korea, we need Russian help.

So there are areas that we have to work together.

BERMAN: I will note the president just tweeted on the stock market, still no direct mention about Russia or the expulsion.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thanks so much for being with us.

CARDIN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right, so who will be the next to go?

The White House says there are no personnel changes at the White House at this time, but what about a few hours from now?

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:04]

BERMAN: So, today, the White House is defending how it can tell reporters one thing and then do the complete opposite day after day after day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: So can you talk -- speak to the White House's credibility, why should we, in this room, and more importantly, the American people, trust anything that this administration is telling them?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, our job, as a press office and as an administration, is to give you the best information that we have available to us, the most accurate information in a timely fashion. Sometimes the dynamics are fluid in any given situation. You mentioned some personnel matters; facts and circumstances change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, my political panel is back with me now.

Look, just to get the recap what we have seen in recent weeks, the president to veto the $1.3 trillion spending bill the day after everyone in the White House said he would sign it. He saw -- let H.R. McMaster go after the White House said the president had confidence in him.

The president tweeted support for his legal team, and then two people left and John Dowd left.

So, Kaitlan, Raj Shah tries to put a nice face on it, a nice spin on it, saying circumstances change. This is why we sort of get things wrong.

But I remember back to the Rob Porter thing, which wasn't that long ago, by the way, where the press office seemed to be telling reporters, look, we just can't be sure what we're telling you is the truth.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, yes, that has been the story for some time now, that these press secretaries have a credibility problem.

And you can criticize them for that, of course. They are speaking on behalf of the president. But that also goes up to the president himself, because he's telling people one thing and then he says something else to someone separately, the complete opposite thing.

And that is exactly what we saw happen with H.R. McMaster. When there was speculation that he was going to be ousted any day, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, got on Twitter, said they had full confidence in him, that he was going to remain at the NSC, there were no changes.

And then, of course, a week later he was replaced. So it just doesn't seem to be the case here. But the question is do these press secretaries have confidence in what the president is telling them? Because if he's telling them I have confidence in these people or I don't, then we get these mixed messages like we today with Raj Shah saying there were no personnel announcements out this time, but he wouldn't say what the president's relationship with David Shulkin, the VA secretary, is.

And then earlier today just hours earlier, the other deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, was on television saying that today the president does have confidence in Shulkin. But we know based on our actual reporting with sources inside the White House that Shulkin has been on thin ice for weeks now and is simply -- the only reason he hasn't been fired is because they're looking for someone to replace him, John.

So he is going to be ousted eventually, unless the president changes his mind just for a short time being, as he did with McMaster.

BERMAN: It is a strange place to be when it just doesn't matter what they say because it could change at any moment.

Alice Stewart, the issue of chaos has been a question for some time inside this administration. And, today, Anthony Scaramucci, who was briefly, very, very briefly, part of that chaos as communications director, he had an interesting way of explaining all the change and turmoil.

Listen to this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: This is a start-up, OK? And the way you got a look at a start-up is, he's trying to put personnel on the team -- on the field that likes him, like his personality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So America is a start-up, Alice Stewart, I'm not sure if you were aware of that. Should we think about the U.S. government as a start-up? Is that the right way of approaching it?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, we shouldn't. Maybe at the beginning of the administration, it is a start-up but not at this point in. Look, the reality is, what many people perceive as chaos in turn at the White House which is the way it looks for this administration and talking with many of them. This is how the President has operated his businesses, it's how he ran the campaign and clearly the administration. And what they are doing is streamlining the staff, getting people that are more like-minded and share his worldview and any administration I've been in, or campaign I've been in, that's what you should do. You want people that share your worldview. The problem is we're doing it a year in when we should be focusing on more issues that -- to help further his agenda, instead of aligning his staff. But that's where we are and I don't blame him getting the right people in for the right job.

BERMAN: Robbie, lost in all of this the last few days, I mean, and when I say all of it, I mean all of it is what happened to the legal team. The defense team is put in place as far as the Russia investigation goes. John is out, the two lawyers that he had hired, one of whom he officially hired, the other who's going to bring it aren't coming in and he's basically left with Jay Sekulow now as his only outside attorney handling what's a very, very serious situation right now. Do you think that the President understands the legal situation? ROBBY MOOK, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I don't know. I'm not a lawyer myself. Donald Trump isn't either. But I actually think this is just like the staffing changes that we're seeing. He wants to be in charge now. He wants to run everything. I don't -- and we heard he might not have a Chief of Staff soon. I don't know that he minds that he doesn't have the kind of professional legal help that he should really want. I think he's winging it just like everything else as Alice said in his business and in this White House.

BERMAN: America, a start-up. Robbie, Kaitlan, Alice, thank you all very much. I really appreciate it. With the revolving door at the White House, the Stormy Daniels saga, the Russia investigation, how is Trump country feeling about the President right now? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] BERMAN: Back now with the "POLITICS LEAD." Just this month, President Trump fired his national security adviser and secretary of state, three women are in court asking to tell their stories about his sexual behavior and he's down to one personal attorney representing him in the Special Counsel's Russia probe. But our brand new CNN poll out just this hour shows his approval rating has actually ticked up. CNN's Miguel Marquez has been out talking to independent voters in Liberty, Missouri outside Kansas City. Miguel, what do they say about the President?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, this is a suburb of Kansas City where the economy is humming along and the President certainly gets credit for that but there is increasing concern about the direction that he is taking the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Liberty, Missouri, in Clay County, the Kansas City suburbs, Trump country.

You voted for Donald Trump?

PAM MEADOWS, PIANO TEACHER: I did.

MARQUEZ: Pam Meadows, a piano teacher, registered Republican and person of the faith, says she likes everything from his policies to his leadership style. The Clay County economy growing since 2013, going gang busters now. Today, jobs are plentiful, unemployment, less than four percent.

MEADOWS: I see the economy has turned around. I believe that he's definitely a straight shooter and what we see is what we get.

MARQUEZ: Even the adult actress, Stormy Daniels an extramarital affair with Donald Trump in 2006 and claims she was harass by those loyal to the President, doesn't shake her faith.

MEADOWS: I didn't vote for a pastor. I would not want him to be the person that led me in the areas of morality or my family or anything like that. That's not what a president is supposed to do. MARQUEZ: Missouri went big for Trump in 2016 beating Hillary Clinton here by 19 points. His support may be narrowing. Gallup put his approval among Missouri voters at 47 percent last year. Those disapproving, 48 percent.

LINDSEY GRUDYSON, VOTED FOR CLINTON: I think that he demonstrates a lack of awareness of the way that Democratic politics works.

MARQUEZ: 25-year-old Lindsey Grudyson initially registered Republican. Today she's an independent who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Is the country going in the right direction?

GRUDYSON: I would say no.

MARQUEZ: Where is it going?

GRUDYSON: Toward a place of increasing division.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Josh Hawley bought and paid for.

MARQUEZ: Missouri is home to one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When she had the chance, she said no.

MARQUEZ: Moderate Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in an uphill fight.

Do you approve of the job the President is doing?

JUAN JAIME, SANDERS SUPPORTER: No.

MARQUEZ: Name, supported Bernie Sanders but says his dislike of the President is a motivating factor in November.

Will your dislike of Donald Trump drive you to the polls in November for Senator McCaskill?

JAIME: Yes.

MARQUEZ: She's a middle of the road Democrat, often votes conservatively.

JAIME: Yes.

MARQUEZ: But you'll support her.

JAIME: I will support her.

MARQUEZ: Even for those who support the President now, admit he may not have their vote in the future.

So when 2020 rolls around, you will happily cast your vote for him again.

MEADOWS: I cannot say that right now.

MARQUEZ: Really.

MEADOWS: I don't know who will be running against him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:55:09] MARQUEZ: That was a bit of a stunning development. She even said she might consider even voting for a Democrat in 2020. Two things are sort of anecdotally clear, being out here a couple days now. Those that dislike the President, it is motivating them not only in the middle but the far left to the polls in November and those that like him right now just might hold out for a different candidate in 2020. John?

BERMAN: All right, very interesting. Miguel Marquez out in Missouri, thank you very, very much. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You can follow the show on Facebook and Twitter @THELEADCNN. That is all for us today I'm John Berman in for Jake. Now time for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."